Lufthansa, cabin crew seek mediation in labour dispute

Union ballot for industrial action ends in late January

FRANKFURT (Reuters) — Lufthansa and cabin crew have agreed to mediation in their dispute over retirement benefits, the airline and trade union UFO said on Monday, as the risk of further costly labour strikes looms over the German carrier.

Lufthansa is squabbling with employees on multiple fronts as it tries to cut costs to compete with low-cost carriers including Ryanair and easyJet as well as with Gulf carriers such as Emirates.

Its pilots staged 10 separate strikes over an early retirement scheme last year, costing the airline close to 200 million euros ($232 million) in operating profit, and last week threatened to walk out again in the coming weeks if no agreement was reached.

Mediation between the airline and cabin crew could begin in the second half of February, after balloting of workers for industrial action ends this month, said Nicoley Baublies, the head of UFO, which represents 18,000 workers at Lufthansa.

"We want to ratchet up the pressure in mediation with the outcome of the ballot," Baublies told Reuters.

Lufthansa said it was convinced constructive talks could help cut through complex points of its conflict with cabin crew, such as workers' contributions to their benefits.

"I am confident that amicable and sustainable solutions can be worked out with the support of a mediator," Lufthansa board member Bettina Volkens said in a statement.

UFO's Baublies said, though, that the union could call on its workers to go on strike if it encountered undue resistance from Lufthansa in talks on separate issues.

It is, for instance, demanding 8 per cent more pay for its members in negotiations that started in April.

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